One amazing Irish teenager took the top prize at the prestigious Google Science Fair for his ground-breaking approach to removing microplastics from the world's oceans.
To say that Fionn Ferriera, 18, from Ballydehob in County Cork, is busy, is an understatement. He works as a curator at the Schull Planetarium, has 12 science fair awards to his name, speaks three languages fluently, plays the trumpet at orchestra level, and has even had a minor planet named after him by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.
Now he can add first prize winner of the Google Science Fair to that list.
Yesterday, July 29, 2019, Fionn was named the overall winner at the 2019 Google Science Fair, the prestigious annual global science competition open to students aged 13 to 18 from all around the world.
His project, titled ‘An investigation into the removal of microplastics from water using ferrofluids’, was selected as the winner from a shortlist of 100 entries and a finalists' round of 24. He received a $50,000 bursary in an awards ceremony held at Google's international HQ in Mountain View, California.
Fionn's work that nabbed him the top prize tackled the question of what to do about the high amounts of microplastics present in the world's oceans.
Microplastics are small plastic pieces less than five millimeters in length which can be harmful to ocean and aquatic life. They come from a variety of sources, including health and beauty products, and form as debris from larger plastics.
In his proposal, Fionn stated:
"I live near the seashore and have become increasingly aware of plastic pollution of the oceans. I was alarmed to find out how many microplastics enter our wastewater system and consequently the oceans4. This inspired me to try and find out a way to try and remove microplastics from waters before they even reached the sea."
Existing water filtration systems do not filter out microplastics. For his project, Fionn used ferrofluids (a combination of magnetite powder and oil), to act as magnets for the microplastics, extracting them from water. Over the course of 1,000 tests, he was able to remove 87% of microplastics.
In his proposal, Fionn discussed the potential to scale up his project to an industrial level. As he heads off to university in the Netherlands, here's hoping this will become a reality.